by March 12, 2000 0 comments

New products are introduced every day. But only a few manage to make a
difference. Some, on the other hand, make their debut with a lot of promise, but fail to live up. In thissection we’ll look at the products that made a difference during the year that is now coming to an end and will continue to do so in the years ahead.



after year, AMD had to play catch up with Intel. It had to keep its prices below
that of Intel, and still wasn’t able to get user acceptance. Then came the K7.
The K7 is the first processor from AMD that has gained user confidence as being
at par (on quality as well as on performance) with processors from Intel. Intel’s
fumble with its 1.13 GHz processor also helped the K7 on its way. Now, finally,
there is a choice in the processor market. And for creating that choice, the AMD
K7 finds its place in our list of products that made a difference this year.

Intel’s 810 chipset

you buy the motherboard. And then you go and buy a handful of other cards to go
into it–video, audio, network cards, etc. Motherboard manufacturers have in
the past tried to build one or the other of these add-on cards on to the
motherboard, but did not succeed, partly because they were not able to achieve
significant cost reductions along the way. What the others were not able to do,
Intel achieved by building video and audio support directly onto the chipset
itself, in the form of the 810 chipset. Suddenly, computer vendors now have a
way of reducing prices even further! Not only that, they can also develop
stylish new PCs (see “A Matter of Style”, page 91 in the issue). For
achieving both, and changing the market forever, the credit goes to the 810
chipset from Intel.

Making the Difference


It was the Palm Pilot that made the PDA a useable product.
And it looked as if the Palm was going to be the only competition to itself.
Then came the Visor from Handspring that redefined the rules of the game. What
did the Visor do? It added something called the springboard port. Much like the
PC card slot on a notebook or a PCI slot on a PC, the springboard can be used to
extend the functionality of the Visor. Springboard products have started
arriving in the market, and can well mark a turning point for PDAs.

Incidentally, there is an irony behind Handspring itself. Readers will recall
that Handspring was started by the very same people who developed the Palm
Pilot. They even licensed the PalmOS and used it on the Visor.


There must hardly be anyone who has not heard of Napster.
This little piece of software has caused enough discussion and raised enough
questions not only in technology circles, but also in legal circles. Napster,
along with MP3, redefined the availability and sharing of music and along the
way raised larger issues of copyright and ownership of music.

It also kick-started what is today called peer-to-peer computing, where you
do not depend on a central server to provide software and services, but can
access them even on other clients connected to the Net. Napster may not outlive
the legal issues it has raised and is facing today, but it has demonstrated a
new way of computing, which may well carve out its own useful niche in the


The Aibo was launched not this year, but in 1999. But it is this year that
the real impact of Aibo was visible. Aibo is a not a computer, but a robotic pet
dog. At Aibo’s heart is a MIPS chip, and Aibo can display emotions and respond
to commands and actions. The importance of Aibo is that it has started off a
whole new genre of gadgets–robotic pets that can learn and, more importantly,
behave very much like real ones.


Graphics on the Web have always been a dicey proposition. First there was the
difficulty of creating eye-catching graphics and animation. And then you had to
make it as small as possible so that users would not be turned off by the
unending wait for your masterpiece to download. Flash was the answer to the
prayers of all Web designers, helping, as it did, to easily create stunning
animations that were easy on bandwidth requirements. No wonder then, today Flash
is a must-have in any Web designer’s arsenal.


Wireless Internet holds a lot of promise. That is, vendors have been
promising, for quite sometime now, that we are almost, almost there! But
somehow, we never quite reached there. Actually, one country–Japan–did, and
the credit for that goes to the iMode service from NTT DoCoMo. iMode uses
always-on Net connects from cellphones to access Web pages created using C-HTML
(Compact HTML) as opposed to the more famous WAP. The big difference is that WAP
is yet to create an impact with the user, while iMode is a major hit in Japan
with over ten million users.

Product categories


Webcams, or digital cameras that can capture low-quality video or pictures
for uploading to Web pages or for video conferencing, are suddenly everywhere.
And helping them is the fact that pries have really, really come down.

LCD monitors

LCDs have been around for some time now. In fact, notebooks have no choice
but to use LCDs. For the desktop monitor, however, the LCD has always been a
very costly option. This year, the desktop LCD monitor finally seemed to go some
place, with prices slowly beginning to come within grasp. Next year should be
even better.

Digital cameras

At the other end of the camera story are the full-fledged digital cameras.
They started off as costly but inferior cousins to classical cameras, but have
now started giving them a run for their money, in terms of quality of output,
features, and price. Expect a lot more next year.

Rack servers

Servers have always been bulky and costly. With organizations needing more
and more servers and data centers becoming a reality, the space for keeping
these servers has been an issue. The solution to the "bulk" issue came
in rack servers. The servers themselves are made very thin, and many of them are
housed in one enclosure, sharing one monitor, one mouse and one keyboard. This
year saw a large number of Intel processor-based rack servers finding their way
to customer premises. Expect many more next year. Unfortunately, the cost part
is still unaddressed.

Home networking

Networking is big business and is usually associated with offices. But with
homes acquiring a second, (and sometimes even a third) computer, networking
these has also become big business, particularly abroad. Even do-it-yourselves
kits are available for home or small business networks.

Portable LCD projectors

Whether you like it or not, a large part of business life goes into meetings
and presentations. No wonder then that projector manufacturers are doing roaring
business. And providing succor to the road warrior is the portable LCD
projector. Just a couple of years back, portable projectors were bulky pieces of
equipment that could barely pass when it came to quality. Today, not only do
they provide very good quality, but have also become very compact and feature


Surely you will have no doubts about the eligibility of this
one to be in our list. The cellphone is fast becoming a must have, and, in terms
of availability, has probably overtaken the computer in sheer numbers. And many
cellphones provide at least some amount of computing support. Expect more in the
coming year.

MP3 players

These come in both hardware and software flavors. There is
hardly any computer around that doesn’t have Winamp or one of its cousins
installed. The hardware versions have not been that popular, thanks to their
steep pricing. Hopefully that will change in the year ahead.

Instant messengers

The next killer application after e-mail turned out to be instant messaging.
Instant messaging offered a cheap, instantaneous, and private, two-way
communication system, which was soon extended to include groups. Today instant
messengers are free to use products. In spite of that, the intense battle that
the majors like ICQ, AOL, etc, are waging for market leadership is a good enough
indicator of the popularity of this method of communication.

CD ReWriters

Not all that long ago, the only choice for personal back-up
was a floppy disk. Another choice, albeit a costlier one, was the Zip drive.
Then came CD Writers. They did not really gain mass acceptance, because of the
high cost of both drive and media. Over time, the price of CD Writeables has
come down to levels comparable to that of a floppy disk, making them universally
used. And in the meanwhile, no one sells CD Writers anymore. What you get today
are CD ReWriters. And these ReWriters have gained acceptance both in homes and
offices alike.

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